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Ashford electricity key worker remembers 40 years in power

Electricity key workers are marking 40 years’ service in jobs that help keep the country going.

From Press releases - 2 September 2020 12:00 AM

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Nearly 80 fresh-faced recruits offered jobs in the electricity industry in 1980 went on to enjoy long and successful careers working on essential electricity networks which power homes, schools, hospitals and the economy across the South East, London and East of England.

One of those celebrating their staying power at UK Power Networks is Alan Towens, 56, from Ashford, who joined the firm on 1 September 1980 when the UK was facing high levels of unemployment. The site surveyor credits his dad’s advice that ‘people will always need electricity’ for accepting an overhead line apprenticeship with Seeboard.

Alan said: “I feel as if I have been blessed and that’s why I have worked in this industry for 40 years. It has been an absolute joy to work for this company. The names have changed, but the people have not and I’m very, very happy.

“It was difficult to get a job in 1980. Unemployment was high, particularly among young people and it was a worrying time for the country. I knew I was going to leave school at 16. I liked working with my hands and couldn’t see myself working in an office.”

Normally, newcomers to UK Power Networks’ 40+ Club, which has 500 employees with over 40 years continuous service, mark the special milestone at an annual celebration, that recognises the important role of long-serving employees. This year, those celebrating safely at home include skilled experts in electricity engineering, linespeople, cable jointers, substation fitters, HR, projects and connections.

Basil Scarsella, chief executive of UK Power Networks, said: “I recognise and celebrate the dedication and expertise of our employees, many of who have lived and worked in the communities we serve, for a long time. Their work keeping the power on is usually carried out behind the scenes, but it enables everyone’s everyday lives to run smoothly.

“Even for those who have been with us for many decades, 2020 has been an unprecedented year and I am hugely proud of all of our staff’s response to the many challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, with everybody working hard to keep the power flowing. Clearly we cannot gather together for our usual 40+ Club dinner this year, but everybody appreciates the reasons why and it remains a milestone well worth marking.”

After a four-year apprenticeship, Alan spent a decade working as an overhead linesperson, maintaining the overhead electricity network which delivers power supplies to homes and businesses, including after the Great Storm in 1987, when he was injured.

Alan said: “We spent two weeks working solidly to reconnect power supplies. At the end, I was putting a pole up when it fell on my leg and I spent six months off work with a broken leg. 

“We were short of cable jointers, so I retrained and never looked back. I really enjoyed my time as a jointer and made lots of good mates.” In 2001 Alan retrained again, as a design technician and today he loves coaching newcomers to the industry, taking pride in teaching them the job safely and in the way he would want people to teach his own kids.

Britain’s biggest electricity distributor, UK Power Networks, is listed in the Sunday Times Best Big Companies to Work For. The company owns and maintains the electricity network which delivers power to 8.3 million homes and businesses across London, the South East and East of England.

In addition to career development for existing staff UK Power Networks continues to run apprenticeships, with new starters due to join in 2021.

1980 factfile: 

•UK inflation reached 17.99%, unemployment hit a 44-year high of 1.9 million and Britain was entering a deep recession

•Council tenants gained the right to buy their homes from their council at a discount, giving many families their first step on the housing ladder

•John Lennon was shot dead in New York and Pink Floyd’s album The Wall hit number one

•Smallpox was eradicated following a global immunisation programme led by the World Health Organisation

•23.5 million viewers tuned in to watch James Bond in Live and Let Die on ITV

•Permed hair, shoulder pads and bold colours were the fashion

•Post it notes were first introduced